Brands get 'parody' options

7 October 2014

LONDON: A change in European law means that brands may no longer be open to charges of copyright infringement if they chose to use the work of others, on condition that it is sufficiently different and humorous.

Previously, using extracts of copyrighted material in the UK without rights holders' permission was restricted to defined purposes, including for use within news reports, but from the start of October, an exception to the law means that there is now a 'fair dealing' right which allows a person to use copyrighted material in works of caricature, parody or pastiche.

"This should allow brands to use work in a satirical or humorous way without [it] being deemed an infringement of copyright," Iain Connor, partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, explained to Marketing Week.

PETA, the animal rights organisation, has already taken advantage of the change to set up a parody website with the words 'Force-Fed & Murdered' presented in a style reminiscent of the logo of upmarket grocer Fortnum & Mason. It has previously used this tactic in the US but said copyright law had prevented it from doing so in the UK.

Challenger brands may also see this as an opening to have a go at their rivals, by caricaturing their advertising efforts. "If brands want to run a cheeky ad campaign this new ruling should allow the creative to get a bit closer than they would have done before," Connor suggested. "We should see a bit more risqué advertising."

But he cautioned that brands contemplating this route should not get carried away as laws on trademark infringement, defamation and fair dealing still existed.

In any case, he added, "Lots of brands want to ensure their brand ID is not in any way associated with any other brand. Parody can easily blur the message and for certain brands it will never be appropriate."

The head of advertising at law firm Wragge & Co thought the ruling was much less significant than some people were suggesting and would not make much difference to advertising.

"This will not usher in some kind of brave new world of creativity," Dan Smith asserted. "Brands quite rightly jealously guard the look and feel they have built up around products and advertising and if a rival tries to adopt certain elements they could be sued," he said.

Data sourced from Marketing Week, Out-Law.com; additional content by Warc staff